Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Progression of Religious Honesty

Which stage are you in?

1) God created the universe approximately 6,000 years ago, which is what science would tell us if it weren't biased.

2) God created the universe approximately 6,000 years ago but made it look older than it is.

3) God created the universe billions of years ago, exactly as the Bible describes it if "yom" means "era" rather than "day."

4) God created the universe billions of years ago, but man was a special creation approximately 6,000 years ago and the rest of the Torah is still true.

5) God created the universe billions of years ago and guided evolution to make man, but the rest of the Torah is still true.

6) God kicked off the universe billions of years ago, fine-tuning it ahead of time to ensure man would evolve and the rest of the Torah is still true.

7) Adam and Eve and the tower of Babel are probably mythological, but the rest of the Torah is still true.

8) Also, the Flood story is exaggerated, but the rest of the Torah is still true.

9) Also, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs may be mythological, but the rest of the Torah is still true.

10) Moses may have written the Torah himself with divine inspiration rather than taking down God's dictation, but the Torah is still divine.

11) Moses and the Exodus may be mythological, and the Torah may have been written by several men across several centuries, but the Torah is still unique and divinely inspired.

12) The Torah may be no more than a flawed product of its era, but Judaism is mankind's best method of reaching towards the Divine.

13) God hasn't had any involvement with humanity since the dawn of time, but He was still the Prime Mover who fine-tuned the universe.

14) There was a Prime Mover, which we can't say anything about, but we'll call it "God" to make ourselves feel better.

15) Nature is "God."

16) "God" is love.

17) We don't know if there is a God. Could go either way.

18) It sure doesn't seem like there is a God.

51 comments:

Jack's Shack said...

The short answer involves #3 and #10. I'll have to try and come back to elaborate.

B. Spinoza said...

how is 18 more honest than 15,16 or 17? It depends on how you define the term "God". in order for you to affirm or deny a concept you have to have a clear idea of what that concept means. So first you need a definition, and once you come up with the definition you can say whether it's true or not.

So the question to you is what is your definition of God? It's likely that I too will deny the concept you refer to as "God".

But as I see it in Western religion the concept of God signifies the core of religious devotion. In other words what should be central to our thoughts and heart. It is also known as "ultimate being" because this is what should be at the center of our mind and heart.

Atheists usually will have something which they think of as the center of their lives. It will be either themselves (ego) or their family or maybe humanity. What distinguishes the atheist from the theist is what should be at the center. The theist will say the "ultimate being" or God because it is greater than any of these things and all these things depend on it.

The question isn't always about honesty it's also about perspective

Jewish Atheist said...

how is 18 more honest than 15,16 or 17?

Because 15 and 16 are just word games and 17 is usually disingenuous.

Your "ultimate Being" should be on the list, probably between 13 and 14.

CyberKitten said...

Seems from a quick reading that I'm at Stage 19... Maybe Stage 20.

B. Spinoza said...

It's not about honesty it's about trying to understand religion deeply and not superficially. If you let the simpletons define the terms then you will be left with nonsense.

I should also point out what may be the the real difference between atheist/theist throughout history is whether reality is infinite and eternal or is it contingent and limited. if you think reality is limited and contingent (existence can cease to exist) then you hold of the atheist/materialist position otherwise you don't

Jewish Atheist said...

I should also point out what may be the the real difference between atheist/theist throughout history is whether reality is infinite and eternal or is it contingent and limited.

For the longest time, atheists thought it was eternal and theists thought it created. Now both seem to agree that it had a beginning.

if you think reality is limited and contingent (existence can cease to exist) then you hold of the atheist/materialist position otherwise you don't

I don't see why you can't be an atheist either way. There seem to be a lot of buddhists who are basically atheists who think the universe has gone on and will go on forever.

Mark said...

Barth said, "I don't care if the serpent spoke or not, what matters is what he said."

B. Spinoza said...

>For the longest time, atheists thought it was eternal and theists thought it created. Now both seem to agree that it had a beginning.

I wasn’t talking about the universe, I was talking about Existence. Besides, I don't think scientists have the view of ex nilo (creation from nothing), so something (what ever that is) would have had to been prior to the big bang.

>I don't see why you can't be an atheist either way. There seem to be a lot of Buddhists who are basically atheists who think the universe has gone on and will go on forever.

I wouldn't be too sure of that. Buddhism is a 2,500 year old tradition with many different schools of thought. I'm pretty sure there are schools of Buddhist thought which hold that there is nothing constant and that nothing is eternal. Others may disagree. I read a book from a Zen monk which said that they essentially believe in the Judeo-Christian God, but prefer not to call it God. I can give you the link to it (it's online for free). They don't believe in a creator God who created the universe with its will. But they may have a more esoteric version of God which is prevalent in Kabbalah and philosophy

The truth is to me the concept of theism (and atheism by extension) is not really relevant. The question to me that's more important is what is reality and how understanding it can or will lead to a happier and better existence for human (and non-human) beings.

Spungen said...

19) It sure doesn't seem like there's a God, but I really wish there were.

asher said...

Hey there's no God...He told me so.

This universe just happened by itself from material that happened to create itself over a course of time.

And the question is: where are the billions of monkeys and were are the billions of typewriters? They have to be someplace...

skcorefil said...

I like that 10 and 11 say divinely inspired. I think that those have got to be more honest than the mushy 15 and 16.

Theriacs said...

#1: What was pounded into my head in Bais Yaakov elementary school.

#3: Some teachers in high school conceded that this was a possibility.

#2,3,4: Most Seminary Rabbi's put these ideas forth as possibilities.
One Rebbetzin insisted on #1, though.

#5-9: One well-respected Rabbi admitted these were possibilities in private conversation, but advised me not to tell anyone.

#13: Was exposed to this idea for the first time when I googled "Newton" to learn more about the development of calculus.

#14: Was expounded upon while in a post seminary institution, while learning about Aristotle's influence on Rambam.

#15-16: Sounds like my yoga instructor :-)

#18: My own rational conclusion.

#17: My thoughts go here when I am just overwhelmed by the utter complexity or simplicity of a thing.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

I think it is a little presumptuous to say that the only truly honest option is the one that agree with you.

Random said...

Somewhere between 11 and 13 most of the time, with occasional hints of 15 & 16 - all suitably fine tuned to reflect a Christian rather than a Jewish viewpoint, of course.

Other than that, what Orthoprax said.

Baal Habos said...

I'm with Spinoza. It's always good good to have a philosopher to depend on.

Jewish Atheist said...

Mark:

Sounds like you're at 11.

Spinoza:

Besides, I don't think scientists have the view of ex nilo

I'm not sure you're right about that.

Spungen:

19) It sure doesn't seem like there's a God, but I really wish there were.

Yeah, there do seem to be some of you out there as well. :-)

asher:

As is often the case, I don't quite get what you're getting at. But it sounds like you're at 1 or 2.

skcorefil,

I like that 10 and 11 say divinely inspired.

Do you think Homer and Shakespeare were divinely inspired as well?

Theriacs:

Excellent synopsis. There do seem to be parallels with level of education.

Orthoprax:

I think it is a little presumptuous to say that the only truly honest option is the one that agree with you.

Of course. :-) Tongue's a little bit in-cheek here. However, I think there's some true, too. People and communities seem to follow through this general path. It's easy to think the end of the path is the destination, although of course one could go "too far."

BH:

It's always good good to have a philosopher to depend on.

And I think philosophers are often geniuses who use their massive brainpower to construct worldviews which give them conclusions they want while being unfalsifiable. Just look at what happens whenever they make claims which are testable. Black cat, dark room, etc.

CyberKitten said...

JA said: People and communities seem to follow through this general path. It's easy to think the end of the path is the destination, although of course one could go "too far."

I think that I *started* at your number 18.. [grin].

Does this mean that I've now gone 'too far'..?

Theriacs said...

JA said: People and communities seem to follow through this general path. It's easy to think the end of the path is the destination, although of course one could go "too far"

Maybe individual people and communities do follow this path.

But in terms of society at large, historically it seems more cyclical. In response to the sophists, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle come along seeking truth once again..In response to them, the skeptics and cynics promote a suspension of belief in anything.
In response to them, the neoplatonists and early Christianity emerge.
In response, William of Occam's razor, and so on and so forth throughout history.

Chana said...

I think I'm simultaneously anywhere from 1-6 and maybe, according to the Rambam, which I have yet to read, 7.

How simultaneously, you may ask? Because different commentaries suggest different things, and since they all bear a certain amount of weight, I must consider all of them! :)

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana:

You're really going to just believe whatever the commentators say? What about science? Archaeology? Comparative religion?

Chana said...

I'd have to do far more research than I have done to come up with a satisfactory answer to that.

That having been said, the fact is that the age of the world does not bother me, unlike some of my friends, who find it greatly troublesome. I think we each are interested in the conflicts between our chosen subjects/ areas of interest and religion. For example, I love the humanities, which means I like English, Bible, Philosophy, Religion (and yes, comparative religion) and hence my questions about Judaism will mostly stem from my area of expertise (or in-progress expertise.) I'm also concerned about social issues/ relations arising within Judaism. Since I understand all that, and that is what interests me, that is what concerns me (and, as you know, the topics that are often found on my blog.)

Since I am not really fascinated by science, mathematics, and the like, I am not well versed in them and frankly, am not really bothered by them. They are simply not relevant (and I use that term loosely because of COURSE in the greater scheme of things they are relevant) to me.

Now, in the interests of truth, you will argue, I OUGHT to be interested in science and mathematics and whatever else can be used to argue for/ against religion and so on and so forth. I agree. I OUGHT to be interested. And perhaps in the interests of truth I might be, someday. But first I'm going to work through the ideas that are of greater importance/ interest to me. After all, if I were to pursue the truth of everything all at once, I would not be able to devote enough interest to anything.

So I will pursue the truth of the things that matter to me (and the things I actually know about) and leave science to the scientists, I think. :) I suppose this is a horrifying and shocking reply. Ah, well.

Orthoprax said...

Chana,

Isaac Asimov also wrote a commentary on the Bible. Are you including his input?

He'd be down by 18 there'bouts.

jewish philosopher said...

This post is great. Just change the title and add "dis" before "honesty".

UberPropagandist said...

You just adequately listed all the stages I've gone through from ages 13 to 19.

Lakewood Venter said...

wow, so many choices!

Chana said...

Orthoprax,

Speaking logically, why would I include Isaac Asimov's input? That's like saying I would believe Samuel Clements' version of "The Bible according to Mark Twain." Surely simply because someone is an author (of either accomplished science fiction or entertaining folk-tale type books) does not give them credibility in terms of religious matters.

If your point is that I don't believe everything I read, you're correct. However, I don't have enough knowledge to choose between the religious commentaries and discern the difference between where they were correct and where we believe they did not have enough knowledge to remain correct. While I believe that a) the Oral Law most probably has been transcribed with errors and emandation therefore makes sense (as the Vilna Gaon did, as well) and b) it is probable that we know more about science than the religious commentaries of other times did, I do not apply thse as blanket generalizations, and assume that anyone is ALWAYS wrong. That'd be very poor scholarship.

If I knew enough, and were science my area of expertise, I could discern between what was true and what was false, but as I do not, I follow the lead of the religious commentaries until I know differently.

Orthoprax said...

Chana,

"Speaking logically, why would I include Isaac Asimov's input?"

My comment was mostly tongue in cheek. You said you've been reading "commentaries." Asimov too wrote a commentary, hence it would fit under that definition.

Anyway though, for your general information, Asimov wrote about basically everything not just science fiction. He was a human encyclopedia. Not that I agree with everything he's ever written, but he had a very wide breadth of knowledge.

On a separate note: "I follow the lead of the religious commentaries until I know differently."

I understand that, but it is obvious that you're only looking into a very selective perspective on the issue. It is often best to take a look at things from outside the box.

Jewish Atheist said...

For example, I love the humanities, which means I like English, Bible, Philosophy, Religion (and yes, comparative religion) and hence my questions about Judaism will mostly stem from my area of expertise (or in-progress expertise.)

So I take it you'll be looking into the Documentary Hypothesis and studying the Bible as literature? Including the historical circumstances in which it was written? That will inevitably lead you into questioning exactly when parts of it were written and for what purpose.

There's no doubt that Rashi, Rambam, et al were experts to a degree that few people from other traditions can match. However, their perspective is inherently limited not just because they didn't know (e.g.) that the Earth is 4,000,000,000 years old, but because they all came out of the same narrow field of study. (Granted Rambam was broader, so perhaps he's a bad example.)

Chana said...

This conversation has become very entertaining, mostly because I'm amused by the intimation that I am stuck inside my little box. I wonder what impression of my personality the overall blog world has. I shall shudder to think on it. ;)

Documentary Hypothesis- what of it? I have a general understanding of the theory but don't agree with it, and as I don't have access to actual primary texts...As for bible as literature- thus far what I've learned of it doesn't negate the Torah in and of itself, because half the time there's a commentary who'll completely agree with what they're postulating.

But let's go back to the point of all this. The only point there could truly be is truth. I.e., the reason I should go to this trouble and attempt to figure out whether or not things I've learned and been taught are accurate/ inaccurate is because I want to live truthfully.

BUT...what happens if I don't mind living a falsehood? This is a theoretical question, and not one that necessarily reflects on me. What if I find it more meaningful, overall, to devote my life to what may be a lie as opposed to trying to get at the truth? Aside from the disappointment some will feel in me, why does this bother you?

The simple answer, of course, is that it would not be TRUE. But then the question waxes larger- does it matter if our lives are dedicated to truth, so long as we are happy? Truth, after all, is by its nature both sweet and bitter, since it shatters illusions.

Now, I personally believe that truth is important, but I cannot give a logical, rational explanation to persuade others of that. Can you? Why ask others to change if they are happy as they are? Because YOU don't like them living with their illusions? But then, one will counter, who are you to judge?

Jewish Atheist said...

chana:

A lot of harm comes from people believing without regard for the truth. Also, if you're living a life of scholarship, it seems an awful waste of time and money to willfully blind yourself to potential truths. Why bother studying if you're not going to be honest?

That said, other than by blogging, I don't go out of my way to dissuade people from their happy illusions. As you know, I didn't challenge your beliefs on your blog out of respect for your age, etc. In real life, I don't go around asking tough questions of people wearing crosses, kippot, or pentagrams. However, anybody who posts a comment on my blog is fair game for argumentation. :-)

And you're in college now.

Chana said...

2 key words- harm and willfully.

Here's the question. If one simply doesn't pursue (a passive action) as opposed to ignoring ideas when confronted with them (an active one), is that still willfully blinding oneself?

I don't think they're in the same category. :)

Secondly- what is the definition of harm you are going by? And would you say it is absolute or relative? In our world, most definitions are relative.

College doesn't really change anything. Oh, it theoretically should, but it doesn't, not in my case.

Orthoprax said...

Chana,

"This conversation has become very entertaining, mostly because I'm amused by the intimation that I am stuck inside my little box."

No, not stuck, but willfully not seriously engaging what lies outside.

"I don't think they're in the same category. :)"

It's the difference between averting your gaze and covering your eyes. One may be less intellectually honest than the other, but they amount to the same thing.

Orthoprax said...

"BUT...what happens if I don't mind living a falsehood? This is a theoretical question, and not one that necessarily reflects on me. What if I find it more meaningful, overall, to devote my life to what may be a lie as opposed to trying to get at the truth?"

Have you been reading Nietzche or something?

Truth, when it's not practically applicable to life, is an abstract value. Fortunately, we are not all brutes so we can appreciate abstractions. I believe you would be stifling natural curiosity to purposefully follow a fiction.

Jewish Atheist said...

If one simply doesn't pursue (a passive action) as opposed to ignoring ideas when confronted with them (an active one), is that still willfully blinding oneself?

It's the same if one chooses not to pursue a specific direction because of fear.

Secondly- what is the definition of harm you are going by? And would you say it is absolute or relative?

There are various levels of harm of course. At one extreme are Muslim terrorists, but you're more likely to suffer the much lesser harm of a mind spinning its wheels without going anywhere important.

Chana said...

Do you know, I thought I hated Nietzsche.

Maybe I hate him because I'm more like him than I know. Then again, that may be too large a compliment- or insult.

In either case, I'm going to go reread this.

Your answer is hardly discouraging. So suppose I stifle natural curiousity. So what? If in return I receive, let us suppose, the respect of my peers, the love of the family unit, glittering admiration for a "knowledge" which others might deem ridiculous, and a sense of superiority.

Who was it that wrote that we are all prostitutes, selling, if not our bodies, then sometimes our souls or skills?

If we all trade ourselves in for something of value, who are you to determine MY value for me? What if I decide my pretty illusions, as they are, are more valuable than truth?

Can you FORCE someone to want truth? Can you force someone to see it?

I think not.

And yet, personally, I DO believe in a truth (even an absolute one) and one that it is necessary for us to see. And I shouldn't like to see myself as a soul-seller.

But then again, who says what one deems to be illusion and another knows as truth are not one and the same?

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana:

What if Asher Lev had refused to paint? No, worse. What if he'd painted, but cowardly. What if he drew little pictures of Moshe.

Yes, he would have kept his family and community, etc. But what a waste.

Chana said...

Ah, so if one is to explore, one must go all the way?

I think it always comes down to a choice like this- do you venture forth into blind waters and throw yourself wherever you are tossed, struggling to make sense of something which is both frustrating and infuriating and at the same time, compelling? Or do you remain safe and calm, but always wonder what would have happened if you'd gone into the deep?

Fear. Fear is a great deterrent, of course, but it shouldn't be, should it? Because if one truly believed, then one must believe that religion should- ought to and will- prevail; that there is nothing that could undermine or do away with it.

So what is it about fear that offends the rational mind, when the very outcome of such rationality is what you wish?

Suppose then, that one were to delve into such matters. One would have a responsibility, of course, to research everything thoroughly, carefully and brilliantly. One would also have to be honest and truthful to all degrees. That could potentially be both rewarding and very, very hard and terrifying.

And then the question becomes...do you want this?

And I don't really know.

Jewish Atheist said...

I'm surprised by that. That's not the impression I've gotten of you.

Chana said...

Which part?

Perhaps it would be more honest to say I do know, but I'm still afraid to act on any such knowledge, and have yet to throw defiance into the teeth of an unfeeling and what is worse, cold wind.

Orthoprax said...

Chana,

I can't prove why truth should be more important than vanities. It's a value judgement.

I also can't prove why we should pursue justice if it goes against our personal selfish interests.

There are many such values that are abstract and cannot be proven utilitarian in the face of selfish vanities.

Yet if all you care about are those creature comforts then I can only think it a waste that nature has provided you with a human potential. You would have been better served being a dog.

Fundamentally, I just believe that humanity is better than that.

Chana said...

*shocked expression relaxes into smile*

A dog? Me, sir? En garde!

I hardly think it's fair for YOU to determine what others should care about. Neither do I think it fair for you to decide whether or not they are "worthy" of being human. Eugenics of any kind, even mental eugenics, really isn't a very good idea.

Fundamentally, I agree with you (in that truth is something to reach for, no matter how far it takes us), even that humanity is better than that. But you cannot PROVE it and neither can I. That was the point I was making.

What YOU deem a waste or a bad use of human potential, does not, of course enter a global picture. Neither do my opinions or wants. Some people might dismiss the homeless man on the street and claim that he is no asset to our community, but I certainly don't think that's our call or judgement to make. Even less so, it follows, is my decision to FORCE another to pursue truth or illusion.

The point is that any such desire- truth, illusion, and the like- is a personal choice, no matter how infuriating.

Since when, by the way, are love and acceptance "creature comforts?" As one who is orthoprax, I would assume that you have not yet been rejected by your peers and/or family. I do not think, therefore, that it is kind or fair for you to so easily dismiss these supposed "comforts."

I am not at a stage where I face such a choice- telling the truth as I see it and losing my family, or refraining and keeping them..simply because at the moment my ideas and opinions are theirs. Should I (or anyone, but for the moment, let it be me) deviate, however, who is it that claims that Truth, some abstract ideal, should take precedence over a natural human desire for love? Who makes such a judgement? I wouldn't dare.

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana:

Maybe love that isn't dependant on lies is superior to love that makes you remain silent.

Orthoprax said...

Chana,

I wasn't calling you a dog. I actually wasn't calling anyone a dog. All I meant is that if one doesn't hold any higher ideals, ideals which elevate us from baser existence, then all you have left is that base existence - on par with the existence of dogs.

Personally, I am a libertarian. If you want to live in ignorance, if you want to live in selfishness, if you want to live without higher ideals, I won't stop you as long as you don't harm anyone else in the process. I'm certainly not going to force you to follow my ideals. But I'm also not going to respect you for the decision you made.

I never claimed to be able to prove why higher ideals are better. Yet for those who care about things beyond their daled amot the reasons don't even need to be given. The world is larger than my personal experience and basing my values solely on myself is myopic.

"I do not think, therefore, that it is kind or fair for you to so easily dismiss these supposed "comforts.""

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate those things as much as the next guy. I just don't think that they should keep you from pursuing truth and justice (and the American way).

Chana said...

JA,

Too damning a statement, that. I don't think it's ever that easy. Plus, this isn't so simple- lies? Truths? It can all be relative.

Orthoprax,

Glad to hear it!

Jewish Atheist said...

chana:

I was unclear. I didn't mean to say that being Orthodox is a lie necessarily... BUT if you had to pretend to be one thing in order to get people to love you, I'd argue it's not real love.

colonel said...

Can I add a level?
How about: "I'm an atheist not because I think any of the arguments for or against are all that convincing, but because I simply don't want to be held accountable to anyone or anything."

Anonymous said...

Have you considered a variation on #4. Adam's spiritual soul, which is the essence of all higher intelligence, was created by G-D 6,000 years ago. His physical body was born of evolved humans.

kham said...

I was pretty sure that there is no god, but then I moved to Topeka, and now I'm quite convinced that he exists as he MUST be punishing me for being an atheist by making me live in this Jesus-loving s***hole.

Izzy said...

Interesting continuum.

I started at 18, kept moving on up, and now float around #2, occasionally floating up to #1, then recovering back to #3, then solidly going back to #2. Rinse, wash, repeat.

I certainly realize that I'm swimming against the current here on this blog, but it's a fun ride anyway.

(Sheesh, talk about mixed metaphors!)

Hrafnkel said...

Was this post intended to have 18 stages, or is that just some nice yiddishe irony?

Jewish Atheist said...

Hrafnkel:

Hehe. Didn't do it on purpose.